1st Edition

Thriving at the Edge of Chaos Managing Projects as Complex Adaptive Systems

By Jonathan Sapir Copyright 2020
    262 Pages 10 B/W Illustrations
    by Productivity Press

    262 Pages 10 B/W Illustrations
    by Productivity Press

    262 Pages 10 B/W Illustrations
    by Productivity Press

    For many organizations, the way in which projects are managed is a fundamental factor in how well they can prosper in today’s marketplace. Unfortunately, the current solutions available to companies for managing projects are proving to be increasingly ineffective in a complex world that is becoming more and more dynamic and unpredictable.

    Organization’s pay for this complexity in delayed time-to-market, slow response to customer needs, and decreased productivity. While tweaking the current project management paradigm may provide some minimal gains, to have a real impact requires a fundamental change in mindset.

    New business models like Uber and AirBnB show us that the most efficient operations in today’s business environment behave like complex adaptive systems (CAS) where self-managing participants, following a set of simple rules, organize themselves to solve incredibly complex problems. Instead of trying to function like a "well-oiled machine" where things "work like clockwork", companies like Uber function more like an organism that is alive and constantly changing. They fully embrace the characteristics of a CAS.

    Viewing an organization as a complex adaptive system drives a radically new philosophy of project management that is much better suited to the needs of the 21st-century organization and can provide the quantum leap improvement in project production that we are looking for.

    This book exposes the assumptions underlying the accepted paradigm of project management, describes the common practices that are based on those assumptions, analyzes why these practices are unhelpful and even harmful, and proposes an alternative, sometimes seemingly counter intuitive approach to project management based on CAS thinking.

    By the end of the book, the reader will have a completely new perspective on the way projects can be managed in their organization, and how they can quickly start reaping the benefits provided by a CAS-driven management methodology and supporting toolset that is more in tune with today’s business demands - and that turns complexity into a competitive advantage.

    Preface. Acknowledgements. About the Author. Overview. Introduction. Part 1: Understanding Complexity. 1. The Current Paradigm. 2. The Paradigm Shifts. 3. Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) Theory. 4. A Sense-making Framework for Project Management. 5. The DNA of Projects. Part 2: Project Management as a Complex Adaptive System. 6. Design. 7. Estimates. 8. Scheduling. 9. Execution. 10. Resources. 11. Monitoring. 12. Optimization. 13. Implementation. 14. Benefits. Conclusion. Bibliography. Index.


    JONATHAN SAPIR has over thirty years’ experience helping clients leverage information technology to build their businesses. Jonathan is the founder and CEO of SilverTree Systems, Inc., a mid-size global software development company. SilverTree clients include Adobe, Docusign, CNA, LifeFitness, and Taco Bell. Jonathan started his career as a systems engineer for IBM South Africa where he was responsible for implementing emerging technologies.

    Jonathan is also the founder and CEO of Work-Relay, an innovative Enterprise Work Management System built on the Salesforce platform. Work-Relay has been implemented across a wide range of industries from startups to Fortune 100 companies.

    "If you aren't following Jonathan's thinking today on how businesses and leaders should adapt and leverage modern technologies and paradigms to project management, get ready to eat the dust tomorrow of competitors who paid attention. Sapir has been consistently ahead of the game on handling the impact of emergent technologies in real-world business environments, and Thriving at the Edge of Chaos is more of the same, offering practical, insightful solutions to apparently intractable management problems in complex, fast-paced, resource-constrained environments."

    - Scott Wilson, Callisto Media


    "Jonathan has written one of the most coherent, deep, and ultimately useful books I’ve read in years. I wish I could mandate that my clients read it.

    Experienced project managers will benefit from Jonathan’s insights such as improving project flow and a dynamic way of tracking project health. Meanwhile, new project managers will find a wealth of real-world wisdom on subjects ranging from task estimates, resolving resource conflicts, and nudging project teams toward success.

    Both will find that Jonathan’s framework on Complex Adaptive Systems will reshape how they evaluate, plan, and manage every future project they lead. This book captures the simplicity on the other side of project complexity as well as any I’ve read."

    - Michael Clingan - Principal, The Claymore Group

    "This is a comprehensive, easily accessible text on the principles to employ to drive complex projects forward. I agree that that breakthrough performance comes from a different way of thinking about the problems in projects. If you want more of your projects completed in less time, these practical approaches will get you there."

    - Mark Woepel, President, Pinnacle Strategies, author of Visual Project Management: Simplifying Project Execution to Deliver On Time and On Budget

    "As a practitioner of applying adaptive systems theory to the improvement of business performance for the past 30 years, it has been my pleasure to work with Jonathan; a leader with intuitive insights into the engineering of emergent behavior within learning organizations. It is no longer sufficient to design business operations for performance. The pace of change increases steadily and change is the only constant. Organizations must be designed to evolve. Adaptivity occupies the sweet spot between stasis and chaos and successful companies must learn to surf within this dynamic zone. I am happy to have found such a capable ally in the mission to optimize performance from this holistic perspective".

    - Scott Perry, Principal Consultant, Eweye Designs

    "I’m an avid follower of Jonathan’s thoughts and body of work. Jonathan’s book Igniting the Phoenix: A New Vision for IT and interviews captured exactly what is now transpiring in terms of business transformation. I have quoted Jonathan on many, many occasions; his insights into understanding emerging key business issues both from the IT perspective and the line- of-business have been truly visionary."

    Rod Smith, VP Internet Emerging Technology, IBM

    "Jon is a wonderfully talented, exceptionally creative, and forward- thinking luminary that would be an asset to any technology team looking to add significant value to their organization and leap- frog their thinking. Jon has proven time and again that he can think things through, not only at a practical level, but also at a level of fore- thought that few venture."

    Ron Schmelzer, Principal Analyst, Cognilytica

    "Jonathan has a deep understanding of leading edge application development environments and a very practical sense of how best to apply technology for business gain. He is a visionary who has survived the technology wars with valuable experience and insight."

    David Shimberg, Strategic Advisor, iDeliver Technologies LLC